The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a novel of naivete, reminiscent of George Orwell’s Animal Farm or William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. In all three cases, the characters find themselves torn from their routine lives and forced into new situations.
The story unfolds through the eyes of nine-year-old Bruno, who returns from school one day to learn that his father has received an important promotion. Inexplicably, the honor has made the family’s lives worse. Gone are the five-story house, the exclusive neighborhood, Bruno’s grandmother, and all his friends. Now they live in a smaller place, where Bruno’s parents argue loudly behind closed doors, while their children adapt to cloistered conditions in a fog of fear.
Adult readers will quickly unravel the mystery. Bruno does not. His questions produce only murky answers from everyone; his secretive parents; his quarrelsome sister; the family housekeeper; the mysterious servant with healing skills; and the boy on the other side of the fence who becomes Bruno’s secret friend.
John Boyne’s narrative allows us to experience a well-documented moment of history in a unique way. His characters, though flawed, are credible, reacting to their situation in understandable ways. Despite the evil events lurking beneath its surface I believe The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is suitable for a wide range of readers, perhaps even those as young as Bruno.